I saw as much as I possibly could.
Thursday: four games at the James Alegre Invitational.
Friday: three games at the Black & Gold Classic.
Saturday: was busy at a car wash all day, but dragged my okole to Kailua and caught the title game between ‘Iolani and Kamehameha.
Here’s what Pupule thinks.
Punahou prime: The Buffanblu aren’t perfect by any means, but they’re running the floor, using fullcourt pressure to keep the tempo up. That win over Kalani in the first round was a matchup of two teams determined to run and gun. Even Coach Darren Matsuda said he thought his team pushed it a little bit too much, but he was generally pleased. It was fun to watch.
But beyond fun and entertaining basketball, Punahou is deep. Even with guard Jordan Tanuvasa out (he had surgery on his torn ACL), they’re loaded at guard with speedsters Dayson Watanabe leading the way. They have athletic wings with Kanawai Noa running the floor. They’ve got a sleeper in Ronley Lakalaka, who has a smooth 3-point stroke, even though he just got off the football field. (He helped the Buffanblu win the state title recently.)
Inside, they’ve got enough size, and football players Davis Miyashiro-Saipa‘ia (6-2, 280) and Semisi Uluave (6-5, 310) are working their way back into basketball shape.
It’s too early to predict a Buffanblu title run, but right now, I don’t see any other team beating them. When I start posting my Top 10 ballot, Punahou will be on top. Unless they lose this week.
Sneaky, sneaky: Mid-Pacific guard Kyle Husslein stands to benefit the most from the new enforcement of the hand-check rule. I saw him work defenses to the bone last year, constantly penetrating, trying to create contact and get referees to blow their whistles. There was one game when he drove five or six times in the first half, forced contact, got no call, no free throws.
But in the second half, those collisions turned into whistles and his free throws became a big factor for the Owls. He’s doing much of the same this year. He’s a point guard who plays wing, loves to drive from the wing and corner, and he’s stronger and more explosive than last season. It’s good news for a relatively young roster, and first-year coach Dwight Holiday is fine with Husslein’s methodology, it appears.
MPI won two games in come-from-behind fashion. Grinding it out may not seem as fun as watching Punahou play, but for hoops aficionados, it’s enjoyable to see this team stay poised in these tight games.
Run, run, run, run away: The Saint Louis Crusaders aren’t in total run-and-gun mode, but Coach Keith Spencer has unleashed his ballers this season. Haka Johnson scored 25 in the win over host McKinley on Friday, letting fly from the 3-point line nine times. He splashed five in, and that’s not the extent of their increased pace.
Johnson and a springy group of guards are leading a fullcourt press, and their bigs are in shape, running the floor as well as the backcourt boys. The ILH will be a tightly-wound test and the tendency of most longtime coaches is to revert back to their “safe zones”. But it’s good to know, for any coach, that he or she can play faster or slower with the wave of a maestro’s baton.
Saint Louis is certainly deep enough to keep up with any other team in the ILH, perhaps even Punahou.
The magic of Walt Quitan: It’s not quite as flashy as Disneyland, but University High basketball has always been a demonstration of efficiency and basketball IQ with Quitan at the controls. They’re fairly young, but they’ve got nice pieces in place. Senior point guard Anthony Canencia, son of former Junior ‘Bow great Randy Canencia, is a supremely steadying force on the floor. That’s why they’re going to keep doing this, winning close games by being smarter.
In Division II, which is always fun and wild in the ILH, that efficiency is key against deeper teams, even faster teams. Micah Kahumoku and Ryan Kaleikini are strong posts who run well, and they were fresh late in the game against Kaimuki as UHS broke it open with a 10-0 run.
Raider nation: Kamehameha played without its sharpshooter in Saturday’s final at the Surfrider Classic. ‘Iolani took advantage, playing smart defense and hitting perimeter shots — Zach Buscher was on fire — to take the title with a 62-48 win.
Buscher is stronger this year after working hard in the weight room. He’s as apt to drive hard and take contact at the rim as he is to launch a 24-foot set shot. The Raiders go deep and Coach Dean Shimamoto is fine with letting his guys run the floor. But they also lock down defensively with a nice mix of height and toughness.
Jaycob Smith hit some nice shots for the Warriors, but he never got a real roll going, and part of that was ‘Iolani’s man defense and its help tendencies. Noa Kinimaka didn’t play, so I had to wonder how much that hurt.
So, tonight, I saw the score via e-mail. It was a Monday game that I totally missed. St. Francis edged Kamehameha 46-43 in overtime at the Saints’ gym. Kinimaka played and scored 16 points, but was limited to one 3-pointer.
St. Francis got 20 points from 6-foot-5 Matthew Nuumanaia, who hit four treys of his own, and Keola Kealoha dished seven dimes.
Coach Sol Batoon has a foundational belief in man defense, as does Kamehameha coach Greg Tacon. That explains, probably, when Kinimaka only had one trey (in one attempt). St. Francis isn’t playing fast, pretty basketball, but their defense is a weapon, and this is a big victory for the little school in Manoa.
Should St. Francis be in Division I? Well… maybe. But any school with an enrollment as small as theirs should have all options available. Batoon has always said that they wouldn’t move up from D-II until they won an ILH title.
They won the D-II state championship last season, but lost a number of talented seniors to graduation. They’d definitely be competitive in D-I, but staying in D-II isn’t a bad idea at all. Especially in the cut=throat ILH. It’s going to be beautifully brutal this season.